Good morning. I'm speaking to you today from Waterman Elementary School in Skaneateles, New York, where children, like those all across America, are now getting back to the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic.
When we took office in 1993, Vice President Gore and I charted a new economic course for America that took Washington back to basics: budget discipline, expanded trade, investment in our people. Today we received more good news that this strategy is working. The latest economic report shows that unemployment has now dropped to 4.2 percent, the lowest rate since January of 1970. In the last 6 1/2 years, we've created 19.4 million new jobs, the longest peacetime expansion and the largest budget surplus in history. With this good news, it is more clear than ever that the course we've charted for the economy is right for America. Now we must use this moment of great promise to meet our large, long-term challenges: to increase opportunity and responsibility for our citizens and to strengthen our national community.
Making the most of this moment requires us to meet the challenges of the aging of America by saving Social Security and strengthening and modernizing Medicare with a prescription drug coverage. It requires us to secure America's long-term prosperity by paying down our debt and getting new investment to areas still untouched by our recovery, and it requires us to continue to pursue an ambitious course to give all our children a world-class education; more and better prepared teachers; modernized schools connected to the Internet; a new commitment to higher standards, to ending social promotion, to more after-school and summer school programs, to ending Federal subsidies for failure, and for supporting proven strategies for turning around schools that aren't working. That, too, is the right course for America.
The risky tax plan passed by the majority in Congress is not the right course for America, and it would make it impossible to pursue these other objectives. I don't believe we should squander our surplus after being in debt for 30 years and quadrupling our national debt in just 12. I don't think we should do something that would imperil our prosperity or jeopardize our children's future—by forcing crippling cuts in education, by failing to add a single day to the life of Social Security and Medicare, by failing to seize this opportunity to get America out of debt for the first time since 1835—or to give more investment to those communities that need it so much: the cities, the small towns, the rural areas left behind.
Instead, we can meet our most pressing national priorities and still have sensible tax cuts and extend our prosperity into the places it has yet to reach. That's the plan I have proposed. I believe that's what the American people want, and that's what I'll work with Congress, with members of both parties, to achieve.
So as America goes back to school and Congress returns from its summer recess, our elected representatives have this big assignment and other important ones, as well. First, we must show we have learned the lessons of Littleton. To protect our children, Congress must pass commonsense measures to prevent youth violence and keep guns out of the wrong hands.
Now, a full month has passed since House and Senate conferees met to work on this legislation; nearly 5 months since the shootings at Columbine. I'm still waiting, and America is still waiting for Congress to act. It shouldn't take another tragedy to shake them from the summer slumber.
Today I'm sending a letter to the Republican leadership urging Congress to take immediate action to send me a balanced bipartisan juvenile crime bill that closes the gun show loophole, requires child safety locks for guns, and bans the importation of large-capacity ammunition clips. If Congress passes it, I'll sign it.
To protect the 160 million Americans who rely on managed care, Congress should pass a strong, enforceable Patients' Bill of Rights. There's a bipartisan bill ready for action. The American Medical Association has endorsed it. So have more than 200 other medical and consumer organizations. It's high time for Congress to act, and if Congress passes it, I'll sign it.
With the number of students at historic levels, Congress should make the investments in education our children deserve. Here again legislation is ready. As part of my balanced budget, I've proposed to build new schools and fix old ones across our land. Congress should pass the proposal and fulfill the commitment it made last year to hire 100,000 well-prepared teachers to reduce class size in the early grades. Congress should also pass my proposal to stop social promotion and provide more funds for after-school and summer school programs and to turn around failing schools. If Congress passes these important educational measures, I'll sign them.
Maintaining our prosperity, paying down the debt, saving Social Security and Medicare, protecting our children, protecting patients' rights, bringing success to struggling communities and to all our children—these are big assignments. But in every one of these areas, there is legislation ready for approval, ready for my signature, as soon as Congress proves it's ready to act.
If we work together in the weeks and months ahead, we can make this season not only one of action but of real achievement for the American people.
Thanks for listening.